How and What

to Pack

for Your

Overnight Hiking Trip

Do you want to go on an overnight hiking trip?

But you don’t know what to pack?

How about how to pack it?

You’re probably saying, “How to pack? What does Shawn mean by that”. The truth is that there is a technique on how to pack for an overnight hiking trip to ensure you can comfortably trek without issues from what you pack.

In this article, I want to cover what to pack for your trip and how to pack it.

This should be an excellent resource for your backpacking and hiking toolbox, so save it and share it with other hikers you know.


What to Pack for an Overnight Hiking Trip

I’ll show you what to pack for your overnight hiking trip in this section.

But it all starts with your backpack.

Make sure you’re using an actual hiking backpack.

It would be so easy (and cheaper) to use a backpack as you would take to school. But those are not designed for hiking. Those are not intended to wear for long periods. They’ll damage you more physically and make you hate your adventure.

Get a genuine hiking backpack. Get something that is adjustable and has an internal frame. A pack with a hip belt system also does wonders for hikers.

My best advice to you is to find a local outdoor store like Shawnee Trails Wilderness if you’re local from Southern Illinois or an REI Store if you’re from elsewhere. They will help fit your backpacking needs and ensure you buy the right one.


What to wear for an Overnight Hiking Trip

The best clothing to pack for an overnight hiking trip is the clothing you’re going to wear.

Don’t pack outfits if you’re just going out for a day or two.

It’s okay to wear the same outfit two days straight when hiking. There are no showers out there. It’s nature. It’s rugged. You might stink. Oh well. You’re in nature, not some 5-star resort. You can cut weight just by wearing the same thing for a few days.

And when it comes to sleep – don’t wear anything if applicable. Let it all air out, if you know what I mean.

For what clothing to wear – I suggest athletic or hiking-specific apparel—anything synthetic like polyester, spandex, nylon, and other materials. The reason is that these materials wicker sweat away better than something like cotton. If it’s colder, wear wool to keep you warm.

Try to practice layering up with what you wear, especially when it’s cold. That basically means adding and removing items as needed as the temperature rises and falls during your hike. It is an effective and efficient way to dress for outdoor adventures.

Bring an emergency layers kit in a waterproof bag (like an oversized Ziplock bag). This kit should include insulated leggings or winter running tights, an insulated compression long-sleeve shirt, a sock cap, gloves, and thick wool winter socks. I suggest this material because it’s incredibly lightweight, and the chance of ever using it should be small. But you’ll have the option if you need these layers (like if you fall in a creek during below-freezing temperatures).

Be sure to bring rain gear with you if you need it. I suggest an oversized poncho that will cover you and your backpack.

Wear comfortable and durable hiking-specific footwear such as hiking boots or trail running shoes. Take a pair of flip-flops or crocs for crossing creeks and something to wear around camp. I take waterproof socks for crossing creeks to save on weight and my feet.


Shelter Items

Your shelter items should be your tent, sleeping needs, and warmth.

When it comes to a tent – go with a lightweight option. A one-person tent or a hammock will be your best option if it is just you. My girlfriend and I sleep better in a three-person backpacking tent versus a two-person tent. That might be your case, too. Set a tent up and test it out before using it.

You probably want some comfort sleeping, so a sleep pad and pillow might be a good option. Some people will wad their clothing up and use it as a pillow. There are many great pad options out there. I prefer the type that you blow air into to use.

A good sleeping bag is needed for your overnight hiking trip. Get the bag that meets the needs of the trip. I use a 20-degree bag, but if it’s 20 degrees (Fahrenheit) outside, that doesn’t mean I’ll be toasty warm. It just means that a sleeping bag is rated for and should keep you alive but may not be so toasty warm. Take hand warmers (air activated) and toss them in your sleeping bag for extra warmth.

A camp chair option is available, but a simple sleeping pad will probably be good enough.

When it comes to a tent or camp chair, carbon fiber materials will be extremely lightweight, but they will cost a lot more.


Kitchen Items

Most of the time, you want some essential kitchen items for your overnight hiking trip.

I usually bring a “pocket rocket,” a stove that screws into a fuel canister. The stove fits in the palm of my hand. The fuel canister is also small but has enough fuel to cook with for a few days if I need it.

I carry a simple cooking cup with a lid and a burn-proof handle. I’ll cook out it, drink out of it, and eat out of it. I carry a plastic fork or spoon because it’s lightweight and all you need. I have a little plastic bottle of spices for my food.

I carry water-proof matches, a feral rod, and a lighter to make a fire. I have all that to be safe. I rarely make a fire and try to rely on my stove and fuel canister for cooking.


Hydration and Fuel Items

Food and drinking are critical and are usually the heaviest of your gear.

For food, I focus on snacks and actual meals. For an overnight hiking trip, I’ll need to bring enough snacks to eat during each day of the hike. I usually take fruit and nut bars from Nature Valley. I like their taste, and they last for a while. They provide enough fuel and carbs for me to keep going. I also like beef jerky sticks and a candy bar once in a bit.

For dinner and breakfast, I take Mountain House Meals with me. I’m an ambassador of their meals. I enjoy them; they’re filling and packed full of the fuel we need to keep going. They last forever and are lightweight. They’re also easy to cook. We usually take a dinner and breakfast pouch each night we plan to backpack.

Hydration should be your heaviest item. Water is important. You can go without eating for a long time but quickly die of dehydration. Take plenty of water and some water purification system. I use a simple Sawyer Mini Water Filter and have water purification tablets, just in case. I’ll filter and cook with creek water to save my water for drinking. I take Hammer Nutrition Electrolytes with me to add to water to get electrolytes back into my body, especially during the summer.

Don’t always assume the creeks will be running. Make sure you bring plenty to drink. A two-liter water bladder for your backpack seems to be easy to carry.


Emergency and Hygiene Items

These items are essential for any overnight hiking trip.

Bring a basic first aid kit. Put it all in a Ziplock bag to help save weight. Just carry what you know how to use and would likely use. Don’t carry a trauma kit. I take diarrhea pills, Ibuprofen, small to large bandages, gauze, medical tape, sheers, alcohol wipes, gloves, and blister pads. I also carry a powder that will clot blood in an emergency blood loss situation.

Consider a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) to hang from your pack. If you don’t bring this, at least get a working whistle. If you cannot hike anymore due to some emergency, having some means of reaching others will be critical for your safety.

Bring a poop kit. Yeah, I said that right – a poop kit. You might have to poop in the woods. It happens to us all. It happens to me more than it should. Bring some toilet paper, a hand shovel, wet wipes, and a Ziplock bag. Dig a hole – do your thing. Make sure you pack out the paper and wipes. Put it in the Ziplock bag with a piece of charcoal, and it won’t stink. Packing it out is just being good to nature. It’s being responsible.

Bring needed hygiene items such as deodorant and gender-specific items you need.

Bring a little travel bottle of sunblock and a bottle of bug spray.

Bring some bear spray and maybe even a bell if you’re in bear country.

You might want to bring a mask if you have to enter a building requiring face covering.


Repair Items

Repair items are a pretty simple fix. Duct tape is a beautiful tool for repairing a hole in a tent or your backpack. Instead of carrying a heavy roll, wrap some tape around your water bottles and trekking poles – even your lighter.

Some paracord and a few zip-ties may also come in handy.

A simple knife and maybe even a folding saw (for cutting small firewood) is also a good idea.


Navigation Items

Navigation is essential during an overnight hiking trip. Getting lost can mean extra danger and not having enough to eat or drink.

Learn how to read a map and use a compass. Then make sure you bring a paper map of the area and a basic working compass. I suggest you learn about topo and contour lines. Knowing how to read these map features will help save you from rolling hills and steep ridgelines.

Bring a dedicated GPS unit or an application for your phone. Make sure the GPS has local maps downloaded into it. Most units will NOT have your maps by default. Make sure any phone app can be used offline. Most hiking trails will not have cellphone data.

Lights help you see in the dark and therefore are a tool for navigation. Bring a few lights and extra batteries for them. Turn the batteries around the wrong way in the lights until you need them. That prevents the light from activating and running the battery down without you knowing about it. I carry a handheld flashlight and a headlamp.


How to Pack for an Overnight Hiking Trip

Now that you know what to pack for your overnight hiking trip let’s examine how you should pack for it.

There is a technique to follow.

Why does it even matter?

Because packing wrong could make the weight unbalanced, and it can cause you pain and even injury.


What you need often should be on top.

Whatever you plan to use the most and the most often should be packed on top or even in hip-belt pockets. I put all my snacks and camera batteries in my hip-belt pockets.

If you pack this stuff on the bottom or in the middle of your backpack, you must take stuff out and then repack it. It could mess with the weight distribution and may cause you issues further down the trail.

Whatever you plan to use the most should be on top for easy access.


Balancing Items you Pack

Balancing or weight distribution will help make your backpack easier to carry during an overnight hiking trip.

Items that are lighter and often used last should be on the bottom of the pack. This is your tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pads, pillows, and extra emergency layers.

Put your kitchen and main food items in the middle of the backpack.

Then, of course, pack the stuff you’ll need first in the top part of the backpack.

Try to move stuff around and distribute the weight until it feels comfortable. The backpack should feel evenly distributed on both sides, top and bottom. Nothing should be poking into you. This is a technique that you should learn to master.


Adjust Backpack Before Overnight Hiking Trip

Before you take off, with everything packed into your backpack, make final adjustments.

Adjust the straps around the backpack.

In most cases, you want to do this while wearing the pack. Anytime you take the pack off, you’ll have to readjust a few straps when you put it back on.

Adjust the hip and waist straps before adjusting the shoulder and back straps for the best results.

The bag is better carried by resting on your hips versus your shoulders doing all the work.


Be Creative About Cutting Weight

You can be creative about cutting weight without sacrificing essential items.

For example, a sleeping pad or a quarter of a yoga mat is lighter than a camping chair.

A rain poncho is lighter than a raincoat and rain pants.

Some ways to cut weight will mean spending more money. Lighter-weight tents and trekking poles will cost more. This is because of the expensive materials used to make it lightweight.

But some things can be cheap if you use your imagination. You don’t have to buy hiking-specific branded products if you can find the same thing at a dollar store for half the price.


Less is Not Always Good

Too much is bad but too few isn’t good, either.

Sacrificing essential items for the sake of weight isn’t a good idea.

Some things, sure. Other things, never!

Water weight is just something you deal with. Going thirsty can lead to more problems than you can handle alone. You might have to be rescued. Or you could die. The same goes for food. You need that food to keep going.

But do you need a sleeping pad, a pillow, and stuff like that? You might be able to go without it, but you sacrifice comfort in the process.

Are you trying to get an FKT for a hike or to enjoy backpacking?

Think hard before deciding to leave something behind before going on your overnight hiking trip.


And that’s it! This is yet another hiking tips article to help you enjoy outdoor adventures. The tips above will help you determine what you need to pack and how you should pack these items to ensure that you have a comfortable and rewarding overnight hiking experience. Stay tuned for even more articles on hiking and outdoor recreation.

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Thanks again for checking out another one of my articles and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!

Shawn Gossman

Shawn Gossman

Founder, Hiking with Shawn

Howdy folks! My name is Shawn Gossman and I founded Hiking with Shawn. I’m an avid hiker, cyclist and outdoorsman here in the Shawnee National Forest. I was born and raised in Southern Illinois and never want to leave. Click here to learn more about Shawn Gossman

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